Judge Allows Suit Against Pork Slaughter Inspection Rule to Continue

Judge Jeffery S. White of the Northern District of California denied the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and its former Secretary Sonny Perdue’s attempt to dismiss a lawsuit against it on Thursday which challenges a swine slaughter inspection rule which became effective in December 2019. In the Order, the court concluded that the plaintiffs did have standing to continue to litigate their allegations. 

It stated, “accepting Plaintiffs’ allegations as true, the Court concludes there is a credible threat that Plaintiffs’ members face an increased risk of illness from consuming adulterated pork products because of the Final Rule, sufficiently establishing standing based on potential future harm.” 

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit include the Center for Food Safety, Food & Water Watch, the Humane Farming Association, and Robin Mangini a “regular consumer of pork.” According to Thursday’s order, they alleged that the rule, which implemented the New Swine Inspection System (NSIS) breaches the Administrative Procedure Act and the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA) which was passed “to ensure that meat and meat food products distributed to consumers are wholesome, not adulterated, and properly marked, labeled, and packaged.” 

Allegations against the USDA include that the Final Rule and the NSIS are a significant transformation from the previous method which included inspections before slaughter, separating hogs with signs of disease, appraisals after slaughter, and supervised disposal when necessary. Under the NSIS, plant employees perform the inspections rather than federal regulators, however, the employees do not need to receive inspection training.  The final rule also allows for faster speeds “diminish(ing) the ability of inspectors to identify potentially diseased or adulterated carcasses.” 

The organizations claimed that the new rule would allow more pork meat on the market which has been contaminated or which came from diseased hogs. “We are pleased that the court recognized the ‘credible threat’ posed by USDA’s new swine inspection rules. Those rules are disastrous for public health by transferring inspection duties to untrained plant employees and allowing increased line speeds. This all but ensures that tainted meat will be sold to consumers, increasing the threat of foodborne illness outbreaks. With today’s decision, we are one step closer to ending this reckless policy change,” said Ryan Talbott, staff attorney at Center for Food Safety said in a press release

The plaintiffs are represented by attorneys with the Center for Food Safety and the Food and Water Watch.